Outside the marginals

A commentary on the politics that followed the UK 2010, 2015 & 2017 elections (and THAT referendum)

Mundell worried about Structural Damage: Scotland & Brexit?

The Secretary of State for Scotland has said he is worried about “structural damage”. However he said this in relation to the second fire at Glasgow’s School of Art (The Macintosh Building); I have not heard him say anything similar about the constitutional fire that his happening on his watch.

The “Scottish Question” is becoming more poisonous as the Tory Government in Westminster seems determined to implement its policy of “Brexit at all costs” – the “Will of the People” apparently.

The coverage of the “Scottish Question” this week has been appalling in its shallowness. Anyone just glancing at the news would think it all started with the SNP walking out of Westminster; “a stunt”. You have to read deeper to see that the Westminster Government is contemptuous of Scottish concerns about Brexit and oblivious to the significant majority for Remain in all Scottish Regions.

I think the contempt in many of the darker areas of the Tory party stems from never really accepting (never mind “respecting”) the Devolution Referendum result. Some have clumsily referred to the Scottish Parliament as equivalent to a County Council.

The Minister for Immigration, Caroline Nokes said to the Scottish Affairs Committee in March 2018:

We’re not going to grant the ability to the Scottish Government that I might not also be granting to Lincolnshire County Council.
Daily Record, Mhairi Black [SNP MP] 2 APR 2018, Tories think they can do anything they want with Scotland and get away with it

It is therefore inevitable that in steam-rollering the Brexit Withdrawal Bill, the Tories see Scottish opinions as an annoying irrelevance that must be slapped down less the provincials get to sabotage “The Will of The People”.

The “Will of the People” is not even across the UK.

United Kingdom EU referendum 2016 area results

EU Referendum (23 June 2016) Results by voting areas ©CC BY-SA 3.0

The management of the bill this week must to many Scots be the last straw.

  • Parties in the Holyrood Parliament (with the exception of the Scottish Conservatives and Unionists) are concerned that on exiting the EU some matters (“returned powers” such as farming, fishing, environmental regulations and public procurement) will be “grabbed” by Westminster for a critical seven years despite them being devolved powers.
  • Because the Westminster Government was unwilling to move on this issue, the Holyrood Parliament (within its powers) voted by 93 to 30 that it “does not consent to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill” – The Scottish Conservatives and Unionists being the sole opposition. This is the first time that Holyrood has declined to consent to a piece of Westminster Legislation.
Debating chamber, Scottish Parliament (31-05-2006)

Debating chamber in Scottish Parliament building © CC BY-SA 3.0

  • The Westminster Government just announced it was going ahead anyway to implement the “Will of the [UK] people”
  • This week they forced through debate on the Lords Amendments giving two days to debate all the amendments. However the debate on the “returned powers” (together with “debate” on Amendments relating to the Belfast Agreement) was squashed into a mere 15 minutes (ref: Hansard 12 June 2018 European Union (Withdrawal) Bill). There was only one speaker called, The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office (Mr David Lidington), a Conservative (elected by an English Constituency)
  • By not calling any Scottish MPs (let alone an MP from the Scottish National Party – the majority party in Scotland), Westminster snubbed Scotland.
  • This may have been due to antiquated procedures in Westminster, but the Government deliberately made full use of them to deny debate.
House of Commons 2010

The House of Commons Chamber © OGL 3

  • This leaves the Scottish National Party with few options. They had been beaten by “procedure”, so why not oppose with “procedure”?
  • This is what their leader did during Prime Minister’s Question Time last Wednesday. He tried to use the modern equivalent of “I Spy Strangers” – a procedural motion which if passed would mean that the chamber had to be cleared of all “strangers” (i.e. all except MPs and Parliamentary Officials).

… the right to debate a matter in private is maintained. Should it be desired to conduct a debate in private, a Member moves “That this House sit in private”, the Speaker, or whoever is in the Chair, must then put the motion “That this House sit in private” without debate. The House last sat in private on the 4 December 2001 when it was debating the Anti Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill. Once in private session, no verbatim, sound or television record of that session can be made. Previously, a Member could achieve the same end by declaring “I spy Strangers” (Strangers being anyone not a Member or Officer of the House) but as Members tended to use this as a device, much deprecated by the Chair, of expressing political indignation on a subject or to delay proceedings …
House of Commons Information Office, 2010, Factsheet G7
General Series: Some Traditions and Customs of the House (p5 Sitting in Private)

  • For some reason the speaker declined to put the motion until after the end of PMQs (which would have reduced the impact of the SNP protest), so Ian Blackford stood his ground insisting it be voted on.
  • This resulted in the equivalent of being red carded and excluded from the rest of that day’s proceedings. The procedural motion was not voted on.
  • When their leader was excluded, the rest of the SNP parliamentary party walked out. I do wonder if it might have been better if one by one they had followed their leader’s example and moved the “sit in private” motion as a point of order, and got individually thrown out.

The Speaker may not have wanted procedure to be used to disrupt proceedings, but he had allowed procedure to be used to make an absolute travesty of the debate the previous evening. The deputy speaker allowed Chope to procedurally “object” to a well-supported and government-supported private members bill on Friday. Surely the Speaker has questions to answer – he is obliged to follow standing orders and precedent, not the desires of the government whips who were standing by the chair “advising”.

This also leaves the SNP in a quandary. If devolution means anything it must mean that Westminster and Holyrood cooperate. Has the Brexit debate got so toxic that the only option is for the government to set fire to the devolution agreement and for the Scots to look on? What will that do to the structural integrity of the United Kingdom – and do the English Tories really care – or is their sectarian view of Brexit too important?

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